Home News Analysis Downward spiral in US-Turkey relations

Downward spiral in US-Turkey relations

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International relations are shaped by national interest. States are perpetually striving to get stronger, either by making common cause with other states or expanding economically and militarily at the expense of other states. Before the 20th century, the ‘balance of power’ sustained by military alliances between states gave the best possible explanation for understanding, interpreting and predicting geopolitics. In the 20th century, especially after the Second World War, the idea of collective defense under international institutions gained prominence.

Foremost among these institutions is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO for short. Formed in 1949 to contain Soviet expansionism, many argue that NATO has outlived its usefulness because the Soviet Union is no more. Still, the principle of collective defense embodied Article 5 of NATO’s constitution makes this military pact stand out from the rest. Indeed, it’s the reason for internal solidarity in NATO. An attack on one NATO member is considered an attack on all.

Fateh Ullah Gulen is also accused by Ankara of being behind the coup attempt. His organization, the Gulen movement, a transnational Islamic social movement, is said to have organized the failed coup in 2016.

Although liberal internationalism goes a long way in helping us understand how states tend to behave in global affairs, the national interest of countries is still the primary motive for virtually all actions they undertake. Realism triumphs over liberalism, in other words. This has been demonstrated by the way Turkey is moving closer to China and Russia while problems in the relationship with the US persist. The Turkish lira got hammered recently, plunging nearly 8% over the course of a weekend. This sparked mass sellout of assets across Europe.

Many feared that the economic problems the Turkish economy is suffering from might spill over to the wider region and western Europe in particular which has been experiencing anemic growth for nearly a decade. The President of Turkey called the decline in the value of the national currency an ‘underhand plot’ by the West to ‘bring Turkey to its knees’. At the same time, he also said that Ankara would look towards Beijing for financing. China has been on a global spending spree ever since the Belt and Road Initiative was announced and will probably happily invest in Turkey.

Read more: Turkey-US Spat: Is US driving Turkey into the arms of Russia?…

An American evangelical Christian pastor, Andrew Brunson, is going under trial in Turkey for allegedly aiding the coup plotters in 2016. The coup failed and the government has been cracking down on any supporters of the attempt to overthrow the government. There have been coups before in Turkish by its secular military. Erdogan, with his Justice Party, is widely seen to be opposed to secularism. His critics argue that he is, in fact, an Islamist. For Turkey, Brunson is a spy who attempted to overthrow the legitimate government in Ankara. He has lived in Turkey for over two decades. US officials maintain that the pastor is innocent.

Months after the coup, he was arrested and formally indicted in March this year on charges of espionage and links to terrorist organizations. Washington has not been able to secure his release. Mr. Brunson remains at the center of the diplomatic row between Turkey and the United States. Fateh Ullah Gulen is also accused by Ankara of being behind the coup attempt. His organization, the Gulen movement, a transnational Islamic social movement, is said to have organized the failed coup in 2016. Gulen resides in the US. Turkey demands that he be extradited.

Turkey is embracing the strategic competitors and rivals of the US. At the same time, relations between Ankara and Washington have hit their lowest ebb in recent decades.

American demands more compelling evidence before any extradition process can begin. Resultantly, Turkey has halted all extraditions to the US until Gulen is released to Ankara by Washington. Reportedly, the Justice Department was spending the greatest amount of time on extradition requests for Gulen while Turkey keeps on providing new information about his organization. As recently as July of this year, Turkey again claimed it has uncovered more evidence of his involvement in the coup attempt but to no avail. Washington refuses to budge. And the deadlock continues.

Meanwhile, Erdogan has embraced Putin as a potential new ally, both literally and figuratively. The purchase of the S-400 Air Defense Missile System from Russia, a deal worth at least $2 billion, is a sign of the growing ties between Ankara and Moscow. NATO officials argue that if Turkey adopts this new weapons system, it may lead to issues of compatibility and integration with NATO’s own weapon platforms. Erdogan and Putin have met several times on a number of platforms, chaired meetings together on a possible political solution to Syria. On the 18th of September, Tuesday, they both agreed to create the buffer zone in Syria’s Idlib province.

Read more: Fraying US-Turkey relations over US support of Syrian Kurds

The United States, the global hegemon and a party to the conflict in Syria, was not invited to these discussions. Moscow and Ankara seem to believe Washington’s voice is not required in solving the mess that is Syria. In August, Beijing reiterated support for Ankara’s economy. State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, Wang Yi, exchanged ideas with his Turkish counterpart in a phone call. Wang also said that the Turks under the leadership of Erdogan will overcome their temporary difficulties and that he believed China can help Turkey.

The Turkish foreign minister said, “We are expecting to deepen cooperation based on mutual interests with China. We will join the One Belt One Road initiative more actively’. The nature and amount of Chinese investment in Turkey have not been announced yet and is probably being worked through at the moment. Turkey is embracing the strategic competitors and rivals of the US. At the same time, relations between Ankara and Washington have hit their lowest ebb in recent decades.

Read more: Turkey gets its first F-35 jet despite U.S Senate’s move to…

Turkey is still a member of NATO but only nominally. Russia considers NATO an existential threat and is selling weapons to one of the largest militaries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. While Ankara is augmenting its military with help from Russia, it is seeking economic assistance from China. These trends are likely to continue in the years to come. Short of a formal defense pact, the relationship between Turkey and Russian and China is likely to get strengthened over time.


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